Raising children is not black and white, so why do we limit them to pink or blue?

I am up to my armpits in raising a two year old boy. He is a typical two year old who loves imitating everything my husband and I do and has a wonderful innate desire to help us around the house. I want to encourage this desire and build his confidence in his ability to do these things so that chores are introduced naturally and help to build his confidence, independence, helpfulness, and feeling of pride and belonging.

I mean, those are all things we want for our children, right? How many articles have you read that encourage positive parenting, pc language, and parenting strategies with an ultimate goal of raising children who feel loved and accepted? The books we seek for our children teach responsibility and send messages that “girls can do anything boys can do” and “you can be anything you want to be.” We value these ideals. As I remember, the “throw like a girl” commercial was shared more than a public toilet seat.

And yet, it seems that everywhere we go gender stereotypes are alive and well, sending subconscious messages to our children that undermine the empowering messages we work so diligently to promote.

My husband noted these messages nearly a year ago (August 21, 2016). My son is interested in pushing things such as shopping carts, strollers, and vacuums. However, my husband and I were perusing the aisles in our local Toys R Us, and couldn’t help but notice that these items, like the pretend kitchen items, cleaning supplies, and baby dolls, were all pink Mini Mouse themed while the red and yellow Mickey Mouse only offered tools, cash registers, and cars.

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I’m not against Mini Mouse or my son having pink toys, but why should he have to? Why separate out the toys that represent the traditional women’s role in pink and labeled with a female character? I teach my son to identify which bathroom to use based on the male character that best represents him on the door and never to go into the one with the female character because that one is only for girls. How do I teach him that this applies to bathrooms, but not toys? And would he even believe me over his beloved Disney who has chosen to promote only little girls on the box and in the advertisements?

Now before we light the torches and storm Disney shouting, “kill the beast,” we have to realize that Disney could (and has) offered some solutions, but they are far from being the problem.

Amazon can occasionally offer us exasperated parents, who have not yet given up on this positive message of equality, some relief in the form of a questionable box from China (but why does it smell like chemicals?!). This solution is not always what we want for our children. My son recently showed interest in caring for a baby doll and developing what I hope will be great big brother skills and eventually great daddy skills. I wanted to get him a little boy doll that he could better identify with and dress up in his newborn clothes. After coming up with very few boy doll options on Amazon, I went to the oh so popular Melissa & Doug website hoping to find him a Mine To Love doll like one of his little girl friends has. I was met with many little unblinking eyes of baby dolls all dressed in frilly pink outfits, complete with pink accessories, and this message in reply to my search.

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Eventually, I found better success with my childhood company, Cabbage Patch Kids (est. 1978), which offers 7 boy and 85 girl Cabbage Patch Kid options, 52 newborn boy and 56 newborn girl options, and accessories in both blue and pink.

Still, there aren’t always obvious solutions. My son loves pretending to blow dry his hair and always wants to use my hair dryer, but I am afraid he will burn himself since it can get quite hot. I had hoped to find him a pretend hair dryer, preferably one that makes real sounds and even better if it actually blows… okay, so I’ve just described a fan, but I need a fan that looks like my blow dryer. However, apparently hair dryers, or fans that look like hair dryers, are only for girls who like pink.

I wonder if I am alone in my struggle with this.

I recently went to a touch a truck event where we saw five out of the seven toddler boys in our friends circle and none of the nine girls. We go for play dates at little girls’ homes and quickly find the cleaning supplies, baby dolls, stuffed animals, and kitchens to play with. My son was thrilled when we went to play at a little boy’s house and he was surrounded by balls, tools, and trucks for a change. I know parents of girls say their daughters love trucks, but I don’t always see those parents go out of their way to support that interest by buying trucks or going to truck events. And all too often I hear of dads who say no way will their son play with anything pink. Do they intend to discourage their son from practicing domestic skills?

Please understand, I don’t fault the parents and in no way am I saying that this is every parent. I am simply observing that these gender roles and expectations have become so deeply rooted in our culture and social norms that they are easily reflected in our businesses, our marketing, our stores, and in our homes. How do we change that? How do we tell our children that they can, and should, step out of those traditional roles while inadvertently teaching them their respective stereotypical role from birth?

 

“If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.” – Plato

The effects of over-parenting

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Today I read an article called, How Do I Know When I’m Over-Parenting? Licensed psychologist, Michael W. Anderson and Timothy D. Johanson, M.D., talk about the parent’s tendency to dote on children beyond those first 12 to 15 months, beyond what the child needs, oblivious to the children’s hints of, “I got this.” They talk about over-parenting as the tendency to over-do it in any one area: over-talking, over-complimenting, over-criticizing, over-interfering.

I initially started thinking about this concept after I was called out at a public park for not hovering. My son was a new walker and had toddled about 10 – 15 feet away from me. He was moving at an extremely slow pace and exploring a large grassy area. A nosey passerby stopped and called out, “whose watching this child?” I was baffled. I was hurt. I was standing just feet away watching my son enjoy his new skill while exploring the grass. I immediately felt defensive. I’m right here. And for the first time, I began to question, who does helicopter parenting benefit; the child or the surrounding strangers?

The article mentioned above does not contain groundbreaking revolutions. In fact, there are numerous studies and teaching strategies that focus on the benefit and necessity of fostering independence in children. One example is Maria Montessori (1870-1952) who stated, “When dealing with children there is greater need for observing than of probing” and “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” Today, over 4,000 Montessori schools have been developed in the united states, operating on these concepts, and there are thousands more throughout the world.

Whether they realize it or not, I often hear other mothers complain of what I would call the effects of over-parenting or helicopter parenting. Let me explain.

  1. Exhaustion.

    Parenting is tough, but over-parenting puts unnecessary pressure and stress on a parent. Just the act of dragging yourself out of bed and getting yourself ready in the morning while simultaneously caring for and preparing another human being is a learned skill. This alone can be exhausting. New parents often struggle with this advanced form of multitasking and joke about the last time they showered. I get it. During that first year it seems like you can’t get away. The moment you try, baby spits up, or blows out, or starts screaming inexplicably. However, one day this changes. Sometime after baby turns a year, baby can handle himself a few minutes in a safe environment. If you have safety-proofed then now is the time to let go. Get clean. Eat hot meals. Sit back and watch your budding toddler in amazement. The constant managing becomes exhausting and it is not good for your health.

  2. A disconnected relationship.

    I do not think there is anything that causes as much strain on a marriage as having a baby. With lack of sleep, whose turn it is to tend to the baby, differences in parenting styles, strained finances, and loss of freedom, there are just so many great topics to choose from when picking an argument. Some couples merge out of the first time parenting fog and reconnect rather quickly, finding strength in this shared experience. Other couples continue to struggle beyond that first year. Often I see this happening when the child is still the first priority and a primary focus over the marriage or the family as a whole. Now is the time to stand back, hold your spouse’s hand, and marvel at the small human you are creating.

  3. Lacking confidence.

    I have noticed that many children of helicopter parents seem to be less confident in themselves. These are the children still clinging onto their parent like a life preserver. They haven’t yet developed the confidence to explore the world on their own, or maybe, the reassurance that you wont be far away if they need you. I have tried my best to give my 19 month old son the encouragement he needs to have confidence in himself. Just today he walked straight up to a little girl his age and said, “Hi, I’m Apple.” Now, that’s not his name, but close enough and I had to just stand back and admire the confidence he showed by putting himself out there to make a new friend. That’s something that a lot of adults still struggle with.

So maybe can we agree that helicopter parenting isn’t the best? Can we find the strength to stand back and let our children explore the world around them so long as they are safe? Even more, can we let go of our fear and judgement to support other parents in this challenging step of letting go just a little?

Don’t fall for this holiday scam!

Several of my friends have posted invitations to join this year’s Secret Sister gift exchange. These same invitations flooded my newsfeed last year and honestly, I am amazed to see them back. The friends who are posting these invitations are intelligent people and I want to believe, in the spirit of the holidays, just as much as they do that these are legitimate opportunities for a fun holiday gift exchange. However, these posts leave me thinking of red flags rather than red bows.

If you are considering taking a gamble in the spirit of Christmas, here’s what you need to consider:

  1. The math doesn’t add up! The post reads like a second grade math problem to me. 1) If Sally sends Mindy one gift, and Mindy sends Noel one gift, and Noel sends Sally one gift, how many gifts does each girl receive? (Answer: 1).  2) If Sally and Noel both send gifts to Mindy and Mindy sends one gift to Sally, how many gifts does Noel receive? (Answer: none).  Plainly put, if everyone is sending 1 gift and receiving 36 gifts, where do the extra 35 gifts per person come from?math
  2. The fact that the post says “this is not a scam” tells me that it is probably a scam! Well, that and the fact that searching “gift exchange scam” yields numerous news stories with headlines such as, “Officials Warn About Secret Sister Gift Exchange Scam.” The holidays are a time of joy and giving for many, but for others, it is an opportunity to take advantage of a person’s goodwill. An article published by NBC quoted Lee County Sheriff’s Office fraud specialist Beth Schell saying, “We have issues with fraud and scams year-round, but particularly during the holidays because we’re looking for deals over trying to get a special gift.”
  3. You are putting yourself at risk for identity theft by sending your personal information to complete strangers! And if you have children, that is all the more reason to resist sending your address to people you do not know.
  4. Finally, and here’s the part that many don’t realize, it’s illegal! An article published by ABC News reported, “The United States Post Office considers this a chain letter which is a form of gambling.”

The surest way to know the gift exchange you are participating in is legitimate and safe is to organize it with your own friends, family, or co-workers. Sure, you will probably leave a Yankee swap among friends with some Poopauri or Fifty Shades of Chicken, but it’s better than receiving 36 boxes of disappointment for the holidays.

Travel with Baby: Lessons Learned the Hard Way

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My husband and I recently took a 14 hour road trip to Florida with our 9 month old that rendered us coffee guzzling zombies for days. Now that I am home and slowly resuming human form, I am able to identify several major lessons learned about traveling with a baby under the age of one.

Prior to having baby co, I was fortunate enough to take several trips within and outside of the U.S. My mindset in planning these trips was to plan a five star vacation on a two star budget. Sometimes that meant sacrificing some time on layovers, driving instead of flying, and hoofing it to main attractions. After several trips with baby co, I’m realizing that the sacrifices that once led to affordable quality vacations will now only lead to a coffee addiction and early female balding.

I know there are moms who exist famously on the motto have baby will travel, but I have to assume those moms are accompanied by babies very different from mine. Babies whose lists of hobbies include sleeping in the car, playing with any toy for more than a minute, and people watching without feeling compelled to scream demands at said people. These slightly less than charming characteristics of my little prince make this motto seem outright laughable.

The things that afford us a five star trip with baby co come with a five star price. The non-stop flights during prime time nap time or bed time with our little love strapped snugly in his Ergo carrier. Accommodations ideally located with limited travel times to main attractions and include a separate bedroom area for baby to sleep undisturbed. And of course, a carefully packed bag of unlimited puffs, creativity, and wet wipes.

Thus far, the mistakes we have made have been failing to take into account the person our son is. He has never been someone who enjoys the car. He struggles to sleep in the car with the bright lights, passing trucks, random bumps, and occasional fuel stops. It was a mistake to think that an overnight car trip to Florida would be met with anything less than a sleepless night and lots of crying and frustration (on his part and ours). Sure, we saved $200, but I have to think a few more trips like that would lead us to re-invest the money into anti-aging remedies, an exchange that’s probably not worth making.

I think it’s time to admit that the days of the affordable five star vacation are behind us, at least until we have an older, more flexible kid.